University revokes Hungary president's doctorate amid plagiarism scandal

A Hungarian university decided Thursday to revoke the doctorate of the country's president after an investigation found that large parts of his 1992 thesis were copied from other authors.

Rector Tivadar Tulassay said Semmelweis University's senate voted 33-4 in favor of revocation because Pal Schmitt's dissertation on the modern Olympics did not comply with the professional and ethical criteria of scientific work.

"The university condemns the violation of scientific norms and sanctions it according to the possibilities offered by law," Tulassay said.

Schmitt, a former Olympic fencing champion and member of the International Olympic Committee since 1983, obtained his degree from the University of Physical Education, since absorbed by Semmelweis University.

Schmitt, whose role as president is largely ceremonial, was to return to Hungary later Thursday from an official trip to South Korea. He said Wednesday that "never for a moment" had he thought about resigning because of the scandal.

A five-member committee consisting of four professors and a lawyer said Tuesday that more than 200 pages of Schmitt's 215-page thesis were either direct translations or showed "partial similarity" to other works.

The committee, however, blamed the University of Physical Education for not noticing the "unusually extensive" copying nor bringing it to Schmitt's attention, which may have led him to believe that "his dissertation meets expectations."

The committee also said that, despite some flaws, the process which resulted in Schmitt's doctorate -- such as his dissertation's preparation and defense -- complied with the university's formal requirements of the time. As a result of that finding, Schmitt said he felt vindicated by the panel's conclusions.

Opposition parties and even different groups and media close to the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who backed Schmitt's election by Parliament in 2010 for a five-year term, have called for Schmitt's resignation.

Schmitt has reciprocated Orban's support by quickly signing into law all of the hundreds of bills passed over the last 18 months by the two-thirds parliamentary majority of Orban's Fidesz party and its Christian Democrat allies. Those bills include some which critics said were problematic and which, such as laws about churches, the media and criminal procedure, were later partially or fully struck down by the Constitutional Court.

If Schmitt resigns, he would be temporarily replaced by Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover until lawmakers elect a new president.